Hackaday Links: December 27, 2020

We’re always pleased to see one of our community’s projects succeed, and we celebrate that success in whatever what it comes. But seeing a company launched to commercialize an idea that started as a Hackaday.io project and a Hackaday Prize entry is especially gratifying. So we were pleased as punch to see that MAKESafe Tools has managed to bring the idea of add-on machine tool braking to market. We’d love to add this to several tools in our shop. Honestly, of all the terrifying ways machine tools can slice, dice, and shred human flesh asunder, we always considered the lowly bench grinder fairly low-risk — and then we had a chance to “Shake Hands with Danger.”

Another great thing about the Hackaday community is the way we all try to keep each other up to speed on changes and news that affects even our smallest niches. Just last week Tom Nardi covered a project using the venerable TI eZ430-Chronos smartwatch as a makeshift medical alert bracelet for a family member. It’s a great application for the proto-smartwatch, but one eagle-eyed commenter helpfully pointed out that TI is shutting down their processors wiki in just a couple of weeks. The banner at the top of each page warns that the wiki is not read-only and that any files needed should be downloaded by January 15. Also helpfully, subsequent comments include instructions to download the entire wiki and a torrent link to the archive. It’s always sad to see a platform lose support, especially one that has gained a nice following, but it’s heartening to see the community pull together to continue to support each other like this.

We came across an interesting article this week that’s was a fascinating glimpse into how economic forces shape  and drive technological process, and vice versa. It turns out that some of the hottest real estate commodities these days are the plots of land occupied by AM radio stations serving metropolitan markets. It’s no secret that terrestrial radio in general, and AM radio in particular, are growing increasingly moribund, and the infrastructure needed to keep them on the air is getting harder and harder to justify. Chief among these are the large tracts of land devoted to antenna farms, which are often located in suburban and exurban areas near major cities. They’re tempting targets for developers looking to plunk down the physical infrastructure needed to support “New Economy” players like Amazon, which continue to build vast automated warehouses in areas that are handy to large customer bases. It’s a bit sad to watch a once mighty industry unravel and be sold off like this, but such is the nature of progress.

And finally, you may recall a Links article mention a few weeks back about a teardown of a super-sized IBM processor module. A quarter-million dollar relic of the 1990s, the huge System/390 module was an engineering masterpiece that met an unfortunate end at the hands of EEVblog’s Dave Jones. As a follow-up, Dave teamed up with fellow YouTuber CPU Galaxy to take a less-destructive tour of the module using X-ray analysis. The level of engineering needed for a 64-layer ceramic backplane is astonishing, and Dave’s play-by-play is pretty entertaining too. As a bonus, CPU Galaxy has some really interesting stuff; his place is basically a museum of vintage tech, and he just earned a new sub.

TI EZ430-Chronos Turned Medical Alert Wearable

Long before the current smartwatch craze, Texas Instruments released the eZ430-Chronos. Even by 2010s standards, it was pretty clunky. Its simple LCD display and handful of buttons also limited what kind of “smart” tasks it could realistically perform. But it did have one thing going for it: its SDK allowed users to create a custom firmware tailored to their exact specifications.

It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve seen anyone dust off the eZ430-Chronos, but that didn’t stop [ogdento] from turning one into a custom alert device for a sick family member. A simple two-button procedure on the watch will fire off emails and text messages to a pre-defined list of contacts, all without involving a third party or have to pay for a service contract. Perhaps most importantly, the relatively energy efficient eZ430 doesn’t need to be recharged weekly or even daily as would be the case for a modern smartwatch.

To make the device as simple as possible, [ogdento] went through the source code for the stock firmware and commented out every function beyond the ability to show the time. With the watch’s menu stripped down to the minimum, a new alert function was introduced that can send out a message using the device’s 915 MHz CC1101 radio.

Messages and recipients can easily be modified.

The display even shows “HELP” next to the appropriate button so there’s no confusion. A second button press is required to send the alert, and there’s even a provision for canceling it should the button be pressed accidentally.

On the receiving side, [ogdento] is using a Raspberry Pi with its own CC1101 radio plugged into the USB port. When the Python scripts running on the Pi picks up the transmission coming from the eZ430 it starts working through a list of recipients to send messages to. A quick look at the source code shows it would be easy to provide your own contact list should you want to put together your own version of this system.

We’ve seen custom alert hardware before, but like [ogdento] points out, using the eZ430-Chronos provides a considerable advantage in that its a turn-key platform. It’s comfortable to wear, reliable, and fairly rugged. While some would argue against trusting independently developed code for such a vital task, at least the hardware is a solved problem.

Fifa Looks At Electronic Augmentation

The [Fédération Internationale de Football Association] is joining the growing list of professional sports that is adopting technological means in an attempt to help the human referees. After a botched call in 2010 the organization called for a system that would work day or night, with 100% accuracy and the ability to report to the Refs in less than 1 second. The applicants have been weeded out and it comes down to two systems, both of which use a piece of personal hardware we’re quite familiar with. [Fe80], who sent in the tip, recognized the TI Chronos eZ430 watch in the image above.

The two systems both use the watch as an interface, but work very differently. The first, called GoalRef, uses a sensor suspended inside the ball. This detects a magnetic field made up by the goal posts. We’d guess it’s an inductance sensor that is triggered when it passes a coil in the goal posts (we didn’t find much in the way of technical info so please do your own speculation in the comments). The second system is very familiar. It’s the Hawkeye camera system used by the APT (Tennis) in all the major tournaments.

Ti Chronos Watch Controls Raspberry Pi

[Mike Field] was working on interfacing his TI Chronos eZ430 watch with the Raspberry Pi. As things were going pretty well, he took a side-trip from his intended hack and implemented watch-based control for an RPi audio player.

It really comes as no surprise that this is possible, and even easy. After all, the RPi board has native USB capability for hosting the watch‘s RF dongle, and it’s running Linux which we know already works well with the Chronos platform. But we still love the thought of having automation controls strapped to our wrist!

mpg321 is the audio playback program used for this hack. It plays MP3 files using ALSA for sound, which does have a few hiccups on the RPi. [Mike] found workarounds and included them in the C program he uses to gather everything into one nice code package. Control depends on keypresses sent from the watch (meant for use with PowerPoint) which are translated by his code and pushed to the audio/mp3 programs.

Texas Instruments Watch Claims It’s A Computer Mouse

[Jack Toole] and his team [Aaron King] and [Libo He] sent in their computer interface dubbed the Chronos Flying Mouse. The video above explains the concept very thoroughly, but we’ll reiterate some of the highlights here. The project uses a Chronos EZ430 with its accelerometers to wirelessly transmit delta positions of the user’s wrist. Add a little open source software and you have a regular PC mouse, a video game joystick, a game wheel, and a few other different devices in one. We just love the suave feeling of snapping to click.

Robot Boxing With Wrist Watches

The classic injection molded plastic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots has been upgraded to use motion control. The project uses four TI Chronos watches, one on each wrist of both players. In the video after the break we get a good look at the guts of the base unit. We’re quite impressed with the quality craftsmanship that went into retrofitting the plastic bots with four servos each. The electronics include some bells and whistles such as an SD card that records scores and can replay a match via saved inputs. If you’ve got a couple of these watches on hand we’d love to see you port this project and make it a Punchout controller.
Continue reading “Robot Boxing With Wrist Watches”

Ez430 Home Automation

[Oliver] has been doing some work to use his TI ez430 Chronos wristwatch for some home automation. He’s working with a RF controllable lightbulb adapter which operates in the 433 MHz band. A dirt-cheap breadboard-friendly transmitter is available from Seeed Studios and he uses this in conjunction with a computer and an Arduino. Before the trolls get to their thing, YES, this is incredible overkill. But remember that he’s prototyping. We hope that if he intends to actually use this setup he’ll migrate to something like an ATtiny2313 running V-USB. Better yet, you should be able to tap into the watch’s companion receiver and cut the computer out completely.

If you’re easily amused you’ll appreciate the video of a light turning on and off after the break. If you’re a little harder to please then take a look at Oliver’s methods of using Python processing for the watch’s data.

Ok, now we’ve seen this watch turning on lights and unlocking doors. What else ‘ya got?